Law firms are competitive places. Even for the most qualified among us, there can be seemingly endless hurdles. The mega-firms, for example, want mega-credentials. For lawyers, this means you got the top grades at the top law school or you’ve got a book of business that would make F. Lee Bailey blush. For other legal professionals, it means you have years of experience with other high-caliber lawyers.
Thankfully, there are a lot of other jobs in the legal world that don’t necessarily require that level of background and experience. Even at those firms, however, competition can be fierce. As someone who spent many years on law firm recruiting committees, I can tell you that there are a few things you can do to shoot yourself in the foot at just about every firm in the country. Since we’re assuming you don’t want to do that, please consider these six tips as a cautionary tale for what not to do when you’re interviewing for a job with a new firm.
#1: Make a fundamental mistake
I suppose I could have made these two mistakes into separate categories, but they’re both so fundamental to screwing up an interview with a law firm that I thought they somehow belonged together. No matter what you do, do NOT: (1) show up late to your interview; and/or (2) have a glaring mistake in your cover letter/resume.
Sure, things happen and sometimes people are late – but not to a law firm interview. I honestly advise that you leave an hour before you need to and then sit in the firm’s parking lot until your interview time. That is far preferable than risking getting caught in traffic, getting pulled over, or any of the millions of other things that can make you late. Lawyers are busy people and, like it or not, they won’t take kindly to waiting around for someone to show up for an interview.
As for your resume, please understand that you are trying to get a job with people who are under tremendous pressure to turn out perfect work product every single day. If you can’t take the time to proof (or have someone else proof) your cover letter/resume, then you’re telling me you won’t be careful with the firm’s work either.
#2: Talk over the interviewer
Regardless of the position you’re interviewing for, you’re likely going to meet with one or two lawyers. For better or for worse, lawyers tend to have rather healthy egos. They don’t take kindly to people who are constantly cutting them off or talking over them in a conversation. What this signals for the interviewer is that you’re the type of person who won’t take directions well. If I can’t make it through a sentence without you jumping in over me, how will I ever get you to understand the firm’s process for filing legal pleadings on time?
#3: Be a know-it-all
This tip is somewhat related to the prior one but this behavior is so annoying that it deserves a category all its own. No matter what you do in a legal interview, don’t come off like a know-it-all with your interviewer.
Using our last example, let’s say I’m explaining our firm’s process for filing legal pleadings. Maybe it includes setting internal deadlines two days prior to the filing deadline, having one person dedicated to proof-reading, and processing the actual filing using a service like One Legal. If your instinct is to jump in and tell me all the reasons that process is wrong, I’m going to be turned off immediately. There is a time and a place for helpful suggestions but to suggest in our first meeting that our firm’s tried and true routines are all wrong? Well, that’s all wrong.
#4: Gossip about your old firm
Look, we’ve all left old jobs dissatisfied. We don’t think you’re looking for a job with our firm because your last firm was perfect. That said, please refrain from giving a litany of reasons why your last firm was a terrible place to work. It’s unprofessional and, at this point, we really don’t know you well enough to know if the problem was you or the firm. If you go on and on about the negatives of your last job, we’ll likely assume it was you.
#5: Make unprofessional social media posts
Like it or not, many prospective employers do look at your social media accounts before you come in for an interview. If you’ve got dozens of posts about how much you hated your last firm, or what an a**hole your last boss was, chances are we won’t hire you. Why? Because even if everything you’ve said is true, it is highly unprofessional to make those types of posts in a public forum where the accused can’t defend themselves. At least have the courtesy to delete any such posts from your account before you start interviewing.
Finally, please don’t lie to us. If still have a semester before you finish your paralegal certificate, don’t tell us you’ve finished. If you didn’t finish college, don’t say that you did. The reality is, these things have a way of coming back to bite you. So, please avoid the trauma of a later-revealed truth and just be your authentic self today.
If you avoid every single one of these faux pas, you’ll give yourself a great head-start for your next interview. Good luck in your job search!